Pennsylvania Sea Grant and partners create awareness of the environmental impacts of pharmaceuticals and personal care products (PPCPs) and the opportunity to properly dispose of unwanted medicines.

Focus Area:      Healthy Coastal Ecosystems, Coastal Literacy

As a result of the many PPCPs used by millions of residents in the Great Lakes basin, studies are showing traces of these chemicals in the environment and the water we use to drink, bathe, and cook. In fact a Pennsylvania Sea Grant-funded study identified the presence of pharmaceuticals in water samples from Lake Erie in 2009. The chemicals used in PPCPs have the potential to negatively impact both environmental and human health.  Mindful consumption and proper disposal of these products are two ways the public can become part of the solution if they understand the dangers.

In 2010 PA, NY, OH, and IL-IN Sea Grant were awarded $530,000 of Great Lakes Restoration Initiative funds to create and disseminate information on the environmental impacts of PPCP use and improper disposal. Funding was also provided for short-term collection events for unwanted medicine drop-offs for residents of the Great Lakes basin. In addition, the 2009 Pennsylvania Sea Grant-funded study enabled the principal investigator, Dr. Steve Mauro of Mercyhurst University, to secure $120,000 of EPA funds in 2010 for further research on the issue.

Results: Through the GLRI project, Undo the Great Lakes Chemical Brew: Proper PPCP Disposal,  Sea Grant staff developed outreach and education materials that help citizens understand the environmental impacts of PPCPs, and the potential impacts on human health. They also suggest more environmentally friendly methods of disposal of unwanted medications; and provide information on chemicals used in personal care products that are proven to carry health risks.  Through this five-state effort, more than 1,000,000 people targeted have been reached and the goal of collecting 1,000,000 unwanted pills in the two-year project was more than doubled.  To date, 1,227,057 people have been reached and 21,765 pounds of unused meds have been collected.  In July 2010, principal investigator Marti Martz was invited to provide testimony on the issue of pharmaceutical pollution for the Pennsylvania House Water Issues Policy Committee. The testimony is being used by the Pennsylvania House of Representatives to craft legislation that provides ongoing, safe and secure, environmentally friendly disposal options for PA residents.

This two-year effort includes: development of education and outreach materials to be distributed to educators, students (k-16), medical professionals, and the general public around the Great Lakes basin; and establishing short-term “unwanted medicine” collections.

Sea Grant staff addressed pharmaceutical and personal care use and waste disposal issues through presentations to multiple audiences including veterinary and pharmacy schools, local college and K-12 students, teachers, and the general public. Sea Grant has become regarded as a go-to resource on this issue in the Great Lakes region.

The Pennsylvania Sea Grant partnership with the Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine (LECOM) School of Pharmacy and Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) on four, unwanted medicine collection events provided the opportunity to inventory the collected unwanted meds. Data from these events will be used to customize outreach materials geared at prescribers and consumers to cut down on leftovers.

The Pharmaceutical Pollution Task Meeting on April 15, 2011 was organized by Pennsylvania Sea Grant to provide state-of-the-science data on pharmaceutical medication disposal impacts on the environment from experts in four states to members of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, which they have used to craft equitable legislation on proper disposal of unwanted medicines.

Pennsylvania Sea Grant also partnered with Geisinger Health Systems to develop a pilot continuous pharmaceutical take-back program to be housed at Geisinger Hospital in Danville, PA.  Pennsylvania Sea Grant outreach materials and media items were used in the education and outreach efforts for this program.

Partners:          New York Sea Grant, Ohio Sea Grant, Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant, Erie Times News in Education, LECOM School of Pharmacy, Drug Enforcement Administration, UPMC Hamot Hospital, Junior PLEWA, Environment Erie, Mercyhurst University, City of Erie Sheriff’s Department.

Seagrant Topics: 
Staff Member: 
Marti Martz

Main Office: Tom Ridge Environmental Center 301 Peninsula Dr., Suite 3 Erie, PA 16505 814-217-9011